Brussels ‘must copy London’s low emissions zones’ and save 900 lives a year, experts plead

<span>The main arterial road near the European council buildings in Brussels during rush hour.</span><span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
The main arterial road near the European council buildings in Brussels during rush hour.Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

More than 100 doctors and environmentalists in Brussels have called on their politicians to follow London and Paris and take measures to improve the choking air pollution in the Belgian capital.

According to IS Global research, Brussels is ranked as the eighth worst of more than 800 European cities for nitrogen dioxide, which damages the lungs and is one of the main byproducts of internal combustion engines. The capital of the European Union is also ranked 308th out of 858 cities for PM2.5, or fine particulates, which can travel deep into the respiratory tract.

The city’s air quality is blighted by traffic congestion, a high level of corporate car ownership and a network of dual carriageways in the centre.

With elections for the lower house of Belgium’s federal parliament, along with European and regional elections due on 9 June, campaigners are stepping up the pressure on candidates to address the pollution urgently.

“Every year, more than 900 Brussels residents die prematurely due to poor air quality,” said 140 signatories to an open letter organised by the campaigners from Les Chercheurs D’air and published in national newspapers in Belgium on Sunday.

This represents more than two deaths per day and more than 10% of mortality in the capital, from all causes combined, they said.

Brussels, they said, is exposed to particularly high levels of fine particles and nitrogen dioxide. Fine particles, which can end up in the blood stream, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, premature birth, attention deficit disorder in children and increase the risk of diabetes.

The health campaigners are calling on Brussels to follow in London and Paris’s footsteps and introduce strict low emissions zones quicker than currently planned.

“The fact that there is a divide of competencies between the Brussels municipalities and the region doesn’t help implementing strong clean air policies quickly. But it’s also down to a lack of political courage,” said Pierre Dornier, director of Les Chercheurs D’air.

“Sadiq Khan in London and Anne Hidalgo in Paris, for example, are fighting more passionately to improve air quality than many Brussels leaders. They allow ambitious measures to be put in place, maintained and strengthened, even when vocal minorities oppose them.”

Paris and Amsterdam plan to ban all cars run on fossil fuels by 2030, while London has extended its ultra low emission zone despite intense opposition.

“In Brussels, we will have to wait until 2035, at the earliest, to be freed of all the fossil fuel engines. And some politicians are asking to delay the phase-out of diesel engines, or even to cancel it,” said Dornier.

“Our job is to combat air pollution in Brussels. What we want to achieve is give the right to Brussels citizens to breathe air that is not toxic, that doesn’t damage their health.”